July 3, 2020

When you are in real trouble, deep trouble — job on the line, family restless, dog embarrassed to be seen with you in the park trouble — what do you do?

If you are President Trump (dogless but otherwise conforming to that description) it is simple. As Frank Bruni of the New York Times puts it, you “set yourself on fire”.

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“His gratuitously touted instincts are nowhere to be found,” Bruni writes, instead they’ve been “supplanted by self-defeating provocations, kamikaze tantrums and an itchy Twitter finger”.

If it’s possible to have a kamikaze tantrum while digging yourself further into a hole then Donald Trump is doing it.

This all-systems meltdown indicates to Bruni and the Democrats that they’ve never had it so good. Not since Clinton Dole in 1996, has the electoral map looked so propitious. Yes, yes: events and all that, but this looks, four months out, like a slam dunk.

Biden by a landslide in November.

Democrats believe it. Many Republicans believe it. The doyen of the Republican smart set, the Wall St Journal columnist and former Reagan speech writer, Peggy Noonan, summed it up in two short, much retweeted sentences:

“He doesn’t understand his own base. I’ve never seen that in national politics.”

Her point was that plenty of Trump voters — perhaps half of them — now actively dislike him and his antics. They wanted the second act of his presidency to be more serious, in particular to be about securing the supreme court for conservative values.

Instead they get a never-ending maelstrom. And a court that has just over-turned Louisiana’s effective ban on abortions. Even after two much touted Trump Supreme Court appointments the big victories — the really serious conservative wins that secure the ascendency of the cultural traditions of (white) rural American for decades — are not happening.

The conclusion reached by all these disparate folk, from liberal Democrats, through ‘never Trump’ Republicans, into the base itself, is that Donald Trump is going to fight a dirty election, perhaps even contest the result, but eventually lose and lose big.

They should know — we all should know — that with Donald Trump there will be twists like you’ve never seen before! Made for TV events that boggle the mind! The promise of a totally new series! Folks, it is going to be way messier than just an election lost. But the wiser Democrats, along with some nervous Republicans, are preparing themselves for the messiest outcome of all.

Donald Trump resigns.

He throws in the towel. All of this flailing about has a direction: the direction water has when a sink-hole empties.

The really interesting thing is that the biggest fans of Trump quitting the scene are some of the more serious supporters of the Donald, or what they thought he stood for. The well-informed Trump-voting blogger Mickey Klaus — the man who first revealed that saintly Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was a scoundrel cheating on his wife — has suggested a plan that may well have legs.

It goes like this. In a reference to a famous article written at the time of the last presidential election, Klaus poses the question ” “What happens if it’s a ‘Flight 93 Election’ and your side is corkscrewing down into the earth?

“…It is time to bail.”

With Donald Trump out of the race he paints a picture of a situation in which passengers rush at the cockpit, and (here the Flight 93 analogy rather fails, but stick with it) eject Trump, thus transforming the election entirely in favour of the Republican party. With Trump gone, the intensity level of the Dem campaign will instantly drop. Millions who might turn out to get rid of Trump will stay at home. The lightning rod having wandered off with all the electricity, everything will probably become very boring very quickly. The Democrats’ nominee is so weak that Republicans, depending on whom they picked, might still have a chance at retaining the White House.

There are of course plenty of Republicans who have wanted Trump to go during the course of his presidency. But I cannot stress enough that Kraus and those who agree with him are not ‘never Trumper’ Republicans opposed to the President and seeking now to bring the party back into the mainstream.

They are the opposite. They want to secure Trumpism, which they see as an aggressively pro-immigration restrictions, pro-American jobs, anti-China and anti-foreign entanglements agenda. Proper populism. And they fear (rightly probably) that a big defeat will lead to a situation where Mr Trump booby traps the White House and jets off into the sunset and the Republican party clears its throat and moves on, moves Left.

How do they stop this? They act NOW. Perhaps with Mike Pence, the vice president or perhaps with some other character sprung from a TV studio in time for the party Convention at the end of August. There is already a name in the frame: step forward Tucker Carlson, the host of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News (of course).

Mr Carlson has veered in recent months into a fascinating area of political space: attacking Donald Trump from the populist Right. Specifically, he called out the White House for failing to clamp down more vigorously (with troops perhaps?) on the Black Lives Matter protests and the riots in some cities.

There’s even gossip — via the Politico website — that Carlson is pally with a man who has the ear of the President but a scratchy relationship with his advisors: “Carlson has established a friendship,” Politico says, “ with Donald Trump, Jr., according to a source familiar with their relationship.”

Whoever it is, the first item on their agenda is a no-brainer. They must find a way to pardon Trump senior or make it plain that they will. As Robert Kuttner of Brandeis University put it recently: “Mar-a-Lago isn’t Elba, much less Saint Helena, but it sure beats the Oval Office.” In other words this Napoleon needs an exile plan. He needs his lawyers to buy into these arrangements in order that he can be sure of living out his days in relative freedom.

That is not as easy to sort out as it might seem because the US federal system makes it nigh on impossible to stop individual states prosecuting crimes they believe were committed on their territory. Vice president Spiro Agnew is a case in point: when he was forced out of office in 1973 and did a deal in lieu of prison it was all sorted out with the federal authorities because his offences were federal not state crimes. Donald Trump has New York to contend with: property deals, loans, tax issues.

Worse: quite a few of the things he might need sorting date from before he was President, so his people cannot even be sure of a presidential get-out clause in an off-to-Elba scenario.

Hang on though, is this really a serious scenario? One Senior correspondent on Fox News, Charles Gasparino, claims to have talked to people who think it may be: “Over the weekend I spoke to a sample of major players; one described Trumps current psyche as “fragile”. Gasparino tweeted a few days ago. “I’ve heard the talk but I doubt it’s true,” another said. “My bet is, he drops if he believes there’s no way to win.”

There is still a way to win. There are new Trump voters to be found among the huge numbers of Americans who do not vote. It is possible, too, that ‘shy Trump support’ — un-noticed by the opinion pollsters — is a thing. And, of course, Joe Biden is no superman. But these are febrile times.

And in the modern world political movements gather pace fast.  Mickey Klaus makes a telling point:

“I admit,” he says, “ I also called in Newsweek for Michael Dukakis to drop out in 1988, long after the convention, on the grounds that he was losing and his running mate, Lloyd Bentsen, would do better.

“Was I wrong?”

He was not wrong. Dukakis went down to historic defeat to George W Bush. Bentsen could have won. This is why the ‘will Trump resign’ question is more than a gossip line for bored political nerds: it is plainly possible, but with what impact? If he walks he throws the nation into a new and even more unpredicatable tumult.

He might like the sound of that.